Many multiple sclerosis (MS) patients in the United States are not taking or being prescribed immunomodulatory agents (IMA) to treat the disease, even though the drugs reduce the frequency of relapse and slow disease progression.

There are six types of IMAs approved for sale in the United States.

Researchers from the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center reviewed more than 6.7 million visits by MS patients to family doctors and neurologists between 1998 and 2004.

The study found that about 62% of patients seen by neurologists and 92% of patients seen by family doctors were not taking IMAS.

"When we looked at patients who are being seen by family practitioners and by neurologists, we were surprised at the number of people who are not benefiting from drugs proven to help reduce the side effects of MS," neurologist and study coauthor Dr. Cormac O'Donovan said in a prepared statement


"Our study could not determine exactly why these FDA-approved drugs were not being prescribed for the treatment of MS," O'Donovan added.

"Some individuals may have mild symptoms at first and decide to defer treatment. Other factors may be that physicians are not as familiar with the newer drugs on the market and the risk-to-benefit ratio," he said. "Some patients may not even be aware of the pros and cons of IMAs or were advised by their physician that they did not meet the criteria for taking the drug. The increased use of IMAs by neurologists probably reflects greater awareness of the drugs' availability and their use by specialists who more often treat patients with MS. We need to spend time looking further into the issue."

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